Sunday 18 February 2018

Put down the Prozac and pick up a book

John Boland

Laid low by depression? Traumatised by a bad relationship? Wiped out by seasonal affective disorder? Well, the answer's simple – why don't you forget Prozac and just read a good book instead?

That, at any rate, is the solution offered by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, who are convinced that the key to coping with life's psychological ailments is to immerse yourself in a work of literature. In The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, just published by Canongate, they argue that 2,000 years' worth of literature can help you become "healthier, happier and wiser".

Arguably, Cecelia Ahern became happier, at least financially, after writing PS: I Love You, but that's not the kind of book being advocated by Berthoud and Elderkin, who favour such high-minded authors as Trollope, Balzac, Camus and Lessing.

And they're quite specific, too, in their recommendations. Muriel Spark is suggested for obesity sufferers (ah yes, The Girls of Slender Means), and Victor Hugo for the broken-hearted, though I'm not persuaded that depressives should go on a course of Woolf, Hemingway and Plath – didn't they all commit suicide?

And personally, I've always thought that reading is its own reward and doesn't necessarily make us better or happier people, but if Berthoud and Elderkin encourage anyone to read one or more of the classics they mention, I suppose their A-Z will have transcended its bizarre claim to be a "medical handbook".

* * * * *

Some writers keep on giving, even from beyond the grave. There've been countless tweakings of Jane Austen by writers keen to cash in on the enduring appeal of the Austen industry, and James Bond has been resurrected by quite a few distinguished Ian Fleming followers – up next is William Boyd's authorised take on 007.

And now Hercule Poirot is getting his moustache rewaxed by Sophie Hannah, who has been commissioned by Agatha Christie's estate to set a new puzzle for the prissy Belgian detective to solve in a mystery novel to be published next year. Aren't there enough Agatha Christie books out there to keep the fans happy?

Irish Independent

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